Do Four Books and a Movie Make a Right?
(Discovering Harry Potter)

With the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the movie, English writer J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter fiction series has escalated in popularity, but not without concern. Schools have caught Harry Potter fever as well. Some are reading it to their students in class and others are making it mandatory reading.

"In fact, Harry Potter books are now being read to two classes at Burruss. And as it turns out, a Harry Potter book has been in the school library since spring - the principal simply didn't know about it, said Kelly Henson, associate superintendent for the 7,228-student Marietta school (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 13, 1999)

Still more are even taking their students to see the movie as a class field trip.

"On Monday morning, 19 buses will drive 780 students and 76 adults from Sharon Middle School to Showcase Cinemas in Randolph for a morning viewing. And yesterday, 150 students from the Heath School in Brookline walked to a Cleveland Circle theater to catch a noon show." (Boston Globe, November 17, 2001)

Students in Katie Pearson's reading classes were among the first in Central Florida to see "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," WESH NewsChannel 2 reported. Their field trip to the movies was a reward for reading the book, and the kids dressed in Potter attire for classes.

All this promotion should come as no surprise since many teachers and parents support the four books as great literary works of fantasy. In dramatic contrast, some say its completely evil and no good can come from it. This is something a few Christian churches would disagree with, as they say that you can lead someone to Christ using Harry Potter.

"I thought I was reading the book to explain to my kids why they shouldn't read it," said Neal, author of the new "What's a Christian to Do With Harry Potter?" (Waterbrook Press). "What really turned me around was that once I had made that distinction for my kids about the fantasy world vs. our real world, I realized these books were so rich, and really had lessons that directly connected to the Bible." ("Religion News Service," July 7, 2001)

"I said, ‘I understand why Christians are cautious. Some of the things in Harry Potter, if kids tried to do those in the real world, could accidentally open them up to spiritual forces of darkness. But, I actually found the gospel in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.’" (Plugged In, November 2001)

You need to choose whether or not you should read Harry Potter or support your kids in doing so. Our saying that Harry Potter is evil would serve no purpose, but our showing you what the Bible teaches us about the themes and ideas expressed in the Harry Potter books, allows you to make right choices.

Who is Harry Potter?

If you have been listening to the news the last few months you've probably already heard about him but for those who need extra details, here goes. Harry Potter is a young boy who possesses a power not of his own, that he was supposedly born with. Harry's parents were killed when he was very young, by the evil wizard Lord Voldermort. Ever since the death of his parents he has lived with his aunt Petunia and uncle Vernon Dursley, who seriously mistreat him. Harry caters to the Dursley's every demand while his spoiled cousin sits by. Unlike the rest of his "family," Harry is distinguished by having a mark on his forehead and weird things happen around him that he can't explain but often gets in trouble for. These inexplicable events seem to occur most when Harry is upset or emotionally involved. On Harry's 11th birthday he receives a letter via an owl. The letter says Harry is accepted to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry attends the school where he learns to take control of the "power" he possesses. The books in the series represent each year Harry attends Hogwarts. Some experiences that take place while at Hogwarts include, going to a "death party" for a ghost named Nearly Headless Nick, flying on broom sticks, and much casting of spells. The author J.K. Rowling is quoted as saying, in an interview with Time Magazine, that the books will become darker yet as the series progresses.

    "There will be deaths," she says, for "the only way to show how evil it is to take a life is to kill someone the reader cares about." (Time Magazine, July 26, 1999)

In an interview with BBC Radio, J.K Rowling has admitted that the content may be too much for some.

"I do think that, on occasion, the material is not suitable for six-year-olds. But you can't stop them from reading it. I read things when I was very young that disturbed me but I don't think that was a terribly bad thing. My parents never censored what I read so I wouldn't say don't read them to a six-year-old, just be aware some of it does get uncomfortable." (BBC News, September 27, 2000)

So what should a Christian do with Harry Potter?

Though the book takes a fantasy approach to its ideas, they have serious content. The included ideas of witchcraft and casting spells, contact with ghost-like figures, and drinking the blood of a animals are very real and not to be taken lightly. God commands his people to be different and to oppose such themes.

"Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them." (Ephesians 5:11 NIV)

It is good to be aware of what is out there, but not to participate in the activities. Our proper understanding of what is being taught enables us to expose it for what it really is.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8 NIV)

While Colossians 2:8 doesn't directly mention sorcery, it does reference "deceptive philosophy." In Britain, where the book first came out, the movie originally was titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. The name was changed in the United States to give it a more mystical appearance, perhaps also better reflecting its contents. The Harry Potter books show no difference between the power "good" uses and the power "evil" uses. It's represented as merely "a force" much like the one found in the Star Wars movies — that you can use it for good or for bad. Of course, they present it that you, as an individual, get to decide what is right and wrong. This entire idea of subjective morality is completely wrong, standing opposed to the absolute right and wrong that God has clearly set up. This God given contrast is clearly shown in Galatians 5:19-24, where the acts of the sinful nature are compared to the fruit of the Spirit.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:19-24 NIV)

What about the Gospel and Harry Potter?

"It is very easy to compare Jesus and Harry Potter," said Madeline Loiacano, the church's co-director and religious education teacher. "Harry is compassionate, he's not judgmental, he's self-sacrificing to the point of being willing to die for his friends, he focuses on the good in people, even when people are not nice to him. (Sunday Times, Sept. 2001)

Using every day analogies to illustrate the gospel is not a problem, in and of itself. Yet, when the analogy upholds – in a positive light – practices that are wrong, it could do more damage than good. Could someone come to know the Lord through a flawed method? Yes! God saves people probably more often than not in spite of the methods. Just "because it works" does not make the practice right. With the Harry Potter books, so much goes against God's Word. Trying to use it for evangelism dangerously promotes much that is false. God has called us to a lifestyle (words and deeds) that is to reflect what we believe. Do you seriously think Jesus would use Harry Potter stories as illustrations? If you think so, read again the parables that Jesus actually used. The Old Testament practices that God condemned as wrong, that would lead His people astray, are still working to do the same today.

Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire who practices divination or sorcery interprets omens engages in witchcraft or casts spells or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12 NIV)

God also knew that our minds are easily polluted and that our minds were completely so before we came to salvation. Dealing with our thoughts is something that is not an option for a Christian.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV)

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is- His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

Clearly, what we think about affects our actions.

Jesus replied: " Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:37 NIV)

Loving God first and placing Him in first place in all areas of our life serves to make sure we obey Him. Why else would this be the first and greatest commandment?

Finally brother, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

The question is, is what you're reading in these books bringing you closer to God or drawing you away in thought or deed? Most people don't like to admit it but what we watch, read, and listen to does affect us in some way — for good or for bad.

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Romans 13:14 NIV)

A lot of the practices in Harry Potter may not be what actual witches do in real life but it's very much along the same lines. For example, the spells may not be real in the Potter stories, as you may not find them in a witches (wiccan) book, but they use the same method to accomplish the task; namely manipulating items through spoken incantations. This, at the least, desensitizes kids to occultic behavior and, at the worst, out rightly promotes it. The Potter books merely join a long line of other media (books, movies, games, music) that are doing this as well.

Even without the movie the books are very detailed and graphic, at times fully creating mental images. In one instance where the evil Lord has taken form in the back of an other's head, he said, "See what I have become? Mere shadow and vapor.... I have form only when I can share another's body... " Possession of an unclean spirit is not a joking matter. Should a student have to read these books in school, or go on a class field trip to see such a movie?

Literary work or not, how is the reader or movie viewer actually looking at the subject matter? Children have a hard time separating reality from fiction. Adults are more often able to separate reality and fiction quite well, however society often misses that children are not able to. In that light, the Harry Potter books present a distorted world view, where the real world is the abnormal one. The mystical world that Harry lives in, including the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, is presented as what should be normal. Anyone who is not a wizard (the "muggles") are unenlightened weirdoes.

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. (Isaiah 5:20 NIV)

Consider the following brief, but to-the-point, verse found in Scriptures...

Do not allow sorceress to live (Exodus 22:18 NIV)

This is a serious statement. Why would God make such a seemingly harsh statement? Consider that when God established His law, the first statement was to have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3). Sorcery is man's attempt to play God. Witchcraft professes to be able to manipulate the environment or elements by spoken word, or even to create out of nothing. God alone is able to create out of nothing as He displayed at the beginning of Genesis, so too God is the only one who has the power to speak to created things and make them obey (Mark 4:39-41). It should not surprise us that God equates rebellion with witchcraft and its practice of divination.

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23 NKJV)

Where does this leave me?

If you are an educator in a school classroom, or a parent, should you read the Harry Potter books to your students, or children, or have them read them? Should you take them to see the movie? Your answer needs to be based on doing what is biblically right. Consider what Jesus, himself, said about children.

And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:5-6 NIV)

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1 NIV)

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6 NIV)

It's serious business teaching any child something that is wrong. Can wrongs make a right? While many are excited that children are reading more books due to the Harry Potter craze, this seemingly beneficial result cannot overcome the serious implications of what else is being taught. Would I want any child reading some other occultic book, best seller or not, for the sake of extra reading? The bottom line, parent or teacher, what is your God given responsibility? In terms of eternity (what really matters!), what should you be teaching?

Written by Josh Duncan of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2001.
Feel free to duplicate as long as the source is cited.